The Repatriation ProcessiStockphoto
Upon their return home, many expats feel isolated among their family and friends.
Family, Friends and the Repatriation Process
Whereas expat kids are concerned with fitting in with their new peers, adult expats have their own social obstacles to overcome throughout the repatriation process. In the first few weeks, friends, and relatives at home will mostly be supportive and solicitous, but this may soon change. Unless they have been expats themselves, they will not be sufficiently prepared for the initial confusion of “invisible immigrants” and their ongoing repatriation process.
“I clashed a lot with my best friend and my mom after my repatriation from over five years in Singapore,” Wendy (46) from Baltimore recalls. “They didn’t want to hear about my time abroad any more – they’d just moved on while I was gone. My mom was mainly interested in talking about my youngest niece – her latest grand-child – and how she was doing in kindergarten, and my friend almost resented me for bringing up Singapore in our chats.”
Wendy’s friend, who had never spent time abroad, felt like Wendy was showing off when she talked about her life in Singapore. “She accused me of monopolizing conversations with mutual friends. When I once complained about getting used to do managing my household without domestic help again, she made a couple of snide remarks about ‘entitlement issues’ and went home early.”
Some former expatriates like Wendy indeed feel an acute loss in status and significance throughout their repatriation process. In their respective expat community, they may have been a big fish in a small pond, so to speak, perhaps even profiting from a generous expat allowance and enjoying the whiff of adventure that’s such a big part of expat life.
When they go back to a more mundane sort of life back home, their loved ones do not know what the expats miss so much. It is especially the sense of newness and freshness that often characterizes life abroad which may get lost throughout the repatriation process.
Beating the Repatriation Blues
For Wendy, it got better when she signed up for a transition seminar with an intercultural coach. “I met a few other expat spouses there, and now I’ve found new friends to share my experience with. They have even encouraged me to take up Chinese classes again and to volunteer as a contact person for other expat partners from my husband’s company.”
Ever since she has learned to cope with the repatriation process, she has been getting along much better with her friend from college. “I’m beating the repatriate blues, and now I can appreciate what she did while I was away – her professional achievements as a lawyer and her hiking trips to the Appalachians. I guess I’ve come to terms with the repatriation process at last.”